Monday, July 31, 2017

Monday, July 31

It's the end of July and the tomatoes are finally starting to produce, including the slicers.   I picked the first PInk Girl and Better Boy tomatoes.  The Pink Girl has a very nice balance of flavors, excellent really.  I've been harvesting Mountain Magic and Black Plum nearly every day and putting them in salads, sliced in half.  Sunday there were finally enough tomatoes - 3 pounds - to make the first batch of salsa.
That's a mix of Black Plum, Mountain Magic, and Roma VF.  The Romas have been dropping to the ground when they turn a little bit red, not an endearing habit for sure.  I've been setting them on the picnic table to ripen, so I haven't actually picked any sauce tomatoes yet.

Along with the tomatoes, enough peppers to make a batch of refrigerator salsa.  The large pepper is Carmen, the next largest is supposedly Bulgarian Carrot, and the small peppers are Jalapeno and Fish, both hot.  I say supposedly because Bulgarian Carrot is orange and hot, and this pepper is red and sweet, with zero heat.   I expect to suffer hot pepper shortages when making the next batch of salsa, and will find myself at the farmers market buying some chilis. 

The sweet peppers were roasted on the grill, and after removing the seeds and skin, they were blended into the tomatoes.

This small batch of salsa gives me the chance to fine tune the recipe.  I don't mind a salsa that's a little too hot, but a salsa that's not hot enough is a waste, in my opinion.  This year's Jalapenos, Burpee seedlings, are much hotter than in year's past.  These were the first red ripe Fish peppers, and they are definitely hot, probably 2 or 3 times hotter than the Jalapenos, so I'm hoping that the salsa will be up to snuff.  The Bulgarian carrot is a disappointment however.  Here's the final product:

The Fish pepper is a strikingly handsome pepper.  With it's striped foliage and bush-like habit it could easily be an ornamental plant.  Although not shown in this photo, the contrast with the ripe red peppers just adds to the esthetic.  It was grown on the East Coast for use in fish dishes.

What is probably the last batch of Vertina cucumbers was picked.  They are now fermenting in a crock on the kitchen counter.

More beans.  Production from the pole beans has slowed down quite a bit.  They have been under attack from Japanese beetles and a small green 'bug' that feeds on the bean.
The Jimmy Nardello peppers and Millionaire okra continue trickling in, enough to add to stir-fries.  Eggplant has taken a break this week but I expect another wave to begin any day.

Lastly, some carrots.  I'm not a huge carrot fan but do like them for soups and stews.  I'm not sure what variety these are.

For the week:  Beans 2.7 lb, carrot 1.6 lb, cucumber 3 lb, okra 0.3 lb, sweet pepper 0.9 lb, hot pepper 0.3 lb, tomatoes 6.2 lb.  To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Notes to self and routine maintenance

Even when there's nothing to pick, every day I check the garden to see if there's anything that requires some attention, immediate or not.  And I also make mental notes of things I want to do different next season, or want to try.  Sometimes I put the notes in writing, but usually I count on remembering them when the time comes next year.

Case in point:  the determinate paste tomatoes.  This is the first year I've grown determinate tomatoes.  After reading some info on them, I decided that they should be grown in the old 2 foot diameter, 4 foot tall cages, and 2 plants would go in a cage.  I knew they were shorter and bushier than an indeterminate tomato plant, but I had no idea how thick the foliage would get.  I've been trying to thin out the foliage to open the plants up, and remove unwanted suckers (yes they do sucker).  But it's a challenge.  Next year I will put in one tomato plant per cage.
This is the cage with Roma VF tomatoes.  The bottom is fairly open, but the upper part of the cage is a mass of foliage.  This tomato has a tendency to drop its tomatoes before they are ripe, and any time I go in there with shears I knock down a tomato or two.

This cage has Plum Regal tomatoes, and they are equally lush.  Early on I slid bamboo stakes crossways through the cage to help support the plants, and noticed that the lowermost stake was bowed under the weight of tomatoes and foliage.  Well yesterday the stake snapped under the weight and the plant dropped several inches.  I managed to carefully get a new stake under the stem, but there's a lot of weight there.  Too much of a good thing I guess.   I'm keeping my fingers crossed until some of these tomatoes can be picked.  Next year I need to find a stronger support.

The strategy for cover cropping continues to evolve.  This year I'm seeding cowpeas as a summer cover crop.  In years past I used buckwheat but it self-seeds rapidly and becomes a weed.  My preference is toward legume cover crops since they can fix nitrogen in the soil.  I was also hoping that the cowpeas like the field peas would be a good forage for the rabbits, but the bunnies won't touch the cowpeas.

I seeded inoculated cowpeas in the brassica bed once the cole crops were out, along with a zucchini which is a little overwhelmed by the cowpeas.

The cowpeas are growing like crazy and have some white nodules on their roots, where the bacteria are doing their work of fixing atmospheric nitrogen.  Cowpeas are closely related to black-eyed peas, but much smaller.  So I began thinking, why not plant a shell bean as a cover crop?  It will do the same nitrogen enrichment as the cowpeas, but at the end of the summer, actually give me something usable.  This bears looking into.

Then there's the squash.  This year they get some size and then die.  Now it's even worse.  The largest plant is showing the signs of bacterial wilt.  About 6 or 7 years ago, bacterial wilt started in the cucumbers and eventually killed all of the squash.  It hasn't come back until now.  The plants will wilt at the end of the day, then perk up again in the morning.  This can go on for a week before they finally succumb.  Today another plant is showing wilt.  I'm not holding out much hope for squash this year.

The Bodacious sweet corn is finished, so the stalks were cut down, chopped up and put in the compost bin.  That gives the Silver Queen a little more light.  It seems to me like corn produces a lot of biomass for what you get out of it, although it does so very quickly.

A still-healthy Butternut squash vine was trained into the newly open area left by the corn.

The Vertina pickling cucumbers appear to be nearly finished.  It's amazing that I was able to pick nearly 3 pounds of cucumbers after this shot was taken.  I don't expect many more though.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday, July 24

I was hoping to post midweek, but my 10 yr old Canon point and shoot camera finally gave up the ghost.  The new camera is the lowest price Kodak that Walmart had, but it does everything I need, actually better than the old camera.   It took a few days to get used to it.  There are a whole lot of features that I will never use (it's a point and shoot camera after all) but I've finally learned how to set it up for basic picture taking without the distracting bells and whistles.

It was a really good harvest this week, as one would expect for late July, but most of it was not captured.  The burlap bag of Yukon Gold potatoes was emptied.  Only 2 1/2 pounds, but the quality was good.  There were pole beans, of course, although they seem to be taking a breather - a little under 3 pounds.  Sweet corn began coming in last week, and I've been picking an ear or two every day.  Okra continues producing at a trickle, one or two pods a day.  The Mountain Magic tomatoes began ripening, and I've been getting a few every day to have with dinner. 

Last week I pulled up the yellow onions and put them on the screen to dry.   A number of them were lost during transplanting.  There won't be the 25 pound harvests of years past, but there's still some nice globes in there.  Next year I will definitely plant the Red Tropea onions again, they are really good for summer use while the storage onions dry.

On Friday I picked two fine eggplants, a Lavendar Touch and a thin Bride, as well as a Jimmy Nardello pepper, a Magyar paprika, a Millionaire okra, Mountain Magic tomatoes.  and some corn (not shown).  The corn was shucked halfway, leaving the inner leaves, and put in the center of the charcoal grill and turned for a few minutes until slightly charred, then moved out to the edges.  I put pork chops in the center of the grill and sliced eggplant marinated in a vinagrette, as well as the sweet peppers, on the edges along with the corn.   Everything finished at the same time, and it was delish.

Sunday I picked a dozen ears of sweet corn and froze it.  This is Bodacious, an early sugar enhanced corn.  The ears are a bit small, but it has deep full kernels and it's very tasty.

And Sunday night I picked the first Black Plum tomatoes, along with more Mountain Magic.

It was time to do a taste comparison.  The Mountain Magic is reputed to have excellent flavor, although I don't find it any better than many of the popular hybrids.   Still, it's not mediocre, like some of the newer varieties I've tried like Grandma's Pick.  It's good but not great.  The Black Plum is a Russian tomato, with a flavor like Black Krim.  The flavor is hard to describe.  It's a mellow, low-acid taste that I like very much.  It's not bright or fruity.  When I'm inundated with them, it should be good for making salsa.

The Fish pepper has gotten so large that I broke off a branch walking down the paths.  I don't know if these peppers are fully ripe.  They are supposed to be about 5 times hotter than Jalapenos, but I tried one this morning and don't think it's any hotter than the Jalapenos that I'm growing this year, which are hotter than average Jalapenos.  I think it will find some use in making salsa.  It's a striking plant with the white stripes on the leaves and pods.

Here's a summary of the week's harvest:
  • Snap beans  1.6 pounds
  • Carrot  0.5 pounds
  • Sweet corn  6.6 pounds
  • Pickling cucumber 1.9 pounds
  • Eggplant 1.6 pounds
  • Okra  0.5 pounds
  • Peppers  0.6 pounds
  • Potatoes  2.8 pounds
  • Tomatoes 1.5 pounds
  • 17.5 pounds total
All in all, a little bit of everything.   I'm already making plans to handle the glut of tomatoes that will soon arrive.   To see what other gardeners are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Monday July 17

Welcome to Harvest Monday.  Here in SW Indiana the garden production is ramping up.  Tomatoes and sweet corn are just a few days away, but in the meantime I'm getting lots of other goodies, mostly beans and cucumbers.  Early last week, a picking of beans, mostly Musica.

The rains arrived midweek and there were no pickings for a several days.  After a day of sunshine on Friday there was a lot to harvest.   A nice batch of beans - from the left, Provider, Fortex, and Musica.  I'm really liking the Musica beans.  Finally, a pole bean worthy of growing alongside Fortex.

Although the cucumber plants look like they are on their last legs, I got a good picking of cukes the same day, almost 4 pounds.  There's also a Bride eggplant and some Millionaire okra.  The Bride eggplant looks to have Asian heritage, and is quite good.

A few more Jalapenos.

I noticed that there was still a cabbage remaining in what was the brassica bed.  Nearly forgot about this one.

Last night, 2 more cucumbers.  Combined with the picking on Friday, there's enough to can a batch of pickles today.  Also a Lavedar Touch eggplant and Jimmy Nardello sweet pepper.

There was also another picking of beans, not shown because the camera decided to stop working at that moment. The summer squash plant was sickly and was pulled up.  I don't miss it though, not that big a fan of summer squash although it's good once in a while.  Anyway, there's a replacement which should start producing in a few weeks.  For the week, nearly 5 pounds of pickling cucumber, and nearly 7 pounds of beans, as well as other good stuff.  I froze most of the beans.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Summer maintenance and pest management

The last round of rains that went through southwest Indiana was too much of a good thing - 2 inches a week ago Friday with hail and winds, then another two inches early last week, it finally turned sunny yesterday and today.   The long bouts of overcast weather are rough on the vegetable plants.   Fungal diseases take hold in the damp and the plants don't get the sun they need to stay vigorous and fight off the pathogens.  I have been waiting for the rains to stop before spraying the plants.

All in all this is not a bad year for pest problems, and the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant (Solanacae) are doing the best I've ever seen.   When the eggplant seedlings were first set out, they were set on with flea beetles the next day.  I sprayed them twice with pyrethrins, and since then the beetles have not been a problem.  Very strange.  Are the plants so healthy that they are able to manufacture the necessary chemicals to fight off the beetles?  Usually it's an ongoing battle to keep the flea beetles from destroying eggplant.

The cucumber plants are already going downhill, with yellow dying leaves.  Yesterday I sprayed them with a solution of potassium bicarbonate, which I purchased at a winemaking shop.  Bicarb is supposed to be most effective against powdery mildew, but I thought I might as well give it a go on this unknown pest.  I don't know if it has had any effect.  The sunshine probably helps more. 

Another new thing for me is the use of insecticidal soap, the potassium salts of fatty acids.   Household soap is mostly the sodium salt of fatty acids, so this is not much different, except the potassium ions can actually be used as a nutrient by the plants.  I mixed the insecticidal soap with Neem oil to make a spray for the apple trees.  The soap can also be mixed with horticultural oil. 

Both chemicals are nontoxic.  The soap works by mechanical action, while the Neem works at a biochemical level and by mechanical action.   A nice thing about this mixture is that the insecticidal soap helps the oil disperse better in the water.

The apple trees have been beset by what looks like a scale insect on the underside of the leaves.   After spraying yesterday, today I saw no evidence of any scale on the leaves.  It looks like it worked really well.  The cedar apple rust is another matter.  It has hit the Golden Delicious tree very hard.  In the spring I did 2 preventative sprayings of Mancozeb but that was not enough to stop it this year.  At least the tree has one less pathogen to deal with.

Japanese beetles like pole beans.  They collect at the top of the vines where they shred the leaves.  There's not much I can do about these beetles.  Pyrethrins are the only organic chemical that will kill them, and I don't want to spray them with that since I pick them every other day, also they are constantly flowering and bees are pollinating them.  I've thought about setting out the traps but that may just bring in more beetles.  So I'm resigned to the beetles getting their cut.

This bed was this year's brassica bed.  The brassicas are all gone now and the bed was sown with a cover crop of inoculated cow peas.  There's a replacment summer squash growing in the foreground, which will be needed since the first squash plant is dying.  At the other end of the bed are 2 rows of bush beans.  The pole beans usually have a slowdown for a few weeks in August, so I'm planting these bush beans as insurance. 

I've mentioned earlier that tomatoes are doing much better than they have in years, and they are still looking good.  These are the determinate paste tomatoes.  I put them in the old 2 foot diameter cages with 2 per cage.  This was the first time growing determinate tomatoes and I had no idea how bushy they can be.  Next year I'll plant just 1 per cage.   I've been trying to remove excess foliage and suckers so the light can reach the tomatoes, but it's still a jungle in there.

After last weeks hail storm, some of the winter squash are still on life support, but this butternut squash has recovered and is growing rapidly.  Maybe I'll get some squash after all.

*For those of you interested in mixing your own sprays:  For the insecticidal soap/Neem spray I used 1 oz of Neem and 2.5 oz of insectical soap in a gallon of water.  For the potassium bicarbonate spray I used 1 TB of bicarb in a gallon of water.  Many articles recommend mixing the bicarb with an equal amount of insecticidal soap as a 'sticker/spreader.'

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday July 10

Greetings everyone and welcome to Harvest Monday, a day when home growers tally up their harvests of the previous week and post it to their blogs.  Head on over to Our Happy Acres to check it out. 

Last Wednesday I had cataract surgery on my left eye and now see better than I have in years, like when I was ten years old.  The next day the sight in my left eye was crystal clear and I could read the bottom line on the eye chart without glasses.  Amazing!  And I'd like to give a shout out to the staff at the Southern Indiana Eye Center in Bloomington, a completely professional operation at every level. 

Friday afternoon a violent thunderstorm moved through this area.   In a short time, it dumped 2 inches of rain with strong gusts and hail.  The hail pummeled the winter squash, breaking stems and tearing up the leaves.  So far the winter squash have had real problems, with a number of them rotting at the base of the stem.  Last week the largest butternut wilted and died.  Friday's storm took out the largest remaining squash and killed another one. with the rest of them on life support.  This is the largest squash that was not killed, and it looks worse for the wear 2 days after the storm.

It a little late in the season, but I went ahead and seeded some replacements for the squash that were killed.  There's still over 3 months before the first frost is remotely possible, and that's enough time to make something. 

The tomatoes and peppers sustained some damage, with broken stems, but the cages held up to the winds.  Some of the onions were already laying over, and the storm finished the job.   I don't think they are ready to harvest just yet. 

The sweet corn, which had recently tasseled out and was forming ears, was mostly leveled.  I spent the evening after the storm staking them up as best I could.  I'm not about to lose that corn! 

Yes there were some harvests.   Early last week a batch of Provider beans and the last broccoli head.  Sorry about the focus, I need a new camera.

Sunday night, more Provider bush beans and the first Musica pole beans.  The Fortex beans are not quite ready yet.  The Musica beans make the bush beans look kind of wimpy by comparison.  Since this is the first year I've grown Musica, I don't have a good sense of when to pick them.  I like snap beans with seeds that are plumped out a little bit.  That's when they are best in bean stews, which is how I like to make beans.

Not shown are 3 pounds of Vertina pickling cucumbers, some Jalapeno peppers and okra.  Okra is still coming in at a trickle.  The summer squash are having a problem with ripening at the blossom end, so nothing there. 

And no tomatoes yet, but the plants still look fantastic.  The Black Plum is now close to 8 feet in height, above the top of the cage with nowhere to go. I'm amazed at the vigor of this variety, and can't wait to try a ripe tomato from this plant.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Monday July 3

Now this looks like summer.   There's a number of firsts this week - first okra, first eggplant, first peppers, and first beans.  That's definitely summer fare.  Earlier in the week I harvested another Golden Acre cabbage, weighing 2 pounds (not shown).  There's actually one more cabbage and one more broccoli still growing, but both of them are diminutive.

Saturday I picked a large, actually oversize at 1 1/2 pounds, zucchini, and the first pepper, a Jimmy Nardello.  The first sweet peppers are usually not all that flavorful, but this one was fantastic, sweet and tangy.  I had to force myself to stop eating it while I cut it up for frying with some of the zucchini. 

Yesterday:  A Lavendar Touch eggplant, Provider snap beans, another Jimmy Nardello, 2 Jalapenos, and Millionaire okra.

Also, 4 pounds of Vertina pickling cucumbers.

There's several more on the vine that should size up by the end of the day, and give me at least 5 pounds total.  That will be enough to can a batch of 7 pints.  Once a few batches are canned I'll turn to fermenting.

To see what other gardeners are harvesting, head on over to Our Happy Acres.